I got into binge eating by arbitrary means. Over 10 years ago, I remember feeling upset one day. I can’t remember why, I just wanted a distraction. At that time, I was in college, living with my grandpa, and not eating very much out of fear for the college freshman 15. So, being upset, I recalled movies and TV shows where women eat junk food to feel better. Miranda ate a tray of brownies from the trash can in Sex and the City, and girls in TV shows ate ice cream from the carton while crying… I thought, meh why not give it a try? So, I went to the store and got a package of Oreos and proceeded to eat most of the bag that evening.
Unhealthy Eating: From Coping to Full Blown Habit.
I repeated the process again not long after, and then again and again. If I had a bad day I had junk food. It wasn’t a regular occurrence, just special occasion stuff for when I was feeling down. Somehow, later on, the boundaries blurred between eating because I was having a bad day, and eating just to feel comfort.
Food became my go to coping tool. If I ever felt anxious, depressed, happy, or hungry, I went full throttle. I mostly ate carbs like cookies, bread, crackers, chips and fast food. I repeated the process 3-6 times a week, each time eating 2,000-5,000 calories per session. I loved carbs and sugar, but I hated myself. Eventually, I added alcohol to the equation and things got worse.
Drinking and Eating.
I drank and I ate. I felt happy with a few drinks inside me, and you know what goes well with happiness? Food. Drunk food. I’m talking drive-thru Mexican and McDonald’s at 11 pm. I’m talking about getting fucked up in your own bedroom in front of the TV, watching chick flicks with food wrappers and wine bottles filling up your trashcan. Then waking up, feeling so full you can’t move and completely hung over.
Tips to Help You Overcome Binge Eating.
I wish I could say that I had an “ah-ha” moment with binge eating to change my behavior. But it didn’t happen. I gained 30 pounds throughout college. Sometimes we don’t have it all figured out. I knew I was unhealthy and that I should have sought out more help. So, here are some tips if you struggle with binge or over-eating:
1. Speak to a Counselor/Therapist/Psychologist/Psychiatrist.
Speaking to a counselor helped. Digging into the causes of your eating will help you avoid over eating in the future. Stick to the counseling. Don’t do what I did and quit after 2 appointments because you think “I’ve got this under control now.” It didn’t work for me and I doubt that a few hours of introspection will wipe the slate clean.
Also, check out Over Eaters Anonymous as binge eaters can find support there too.
2. See a Food Expert.
This might seem like an extravagant resource, but dieticians and nutritionists are equipped to fit healthy eating into your everyday lifestyle. Find one that focuses on a real food diet. I have friends who were most successful after speaking to a food expert; more so than dieting memberships or relying on their own discipline.
3. Cut Back on Sugar.
Sugar is addictive and most of comfort foods are sugar or converted to sugar in your body. Start small by cutting out obvious sources of sugar: candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol. Then begin limiting carbs, like processed bread (crackers, chips, sandwich bread). Substitute fruit or dried fruit until you’re able to cut back on those too.
4. Count Your Calories.
I stopped doing this out of shame for myself. If you feel a binge coming in, start logging your food right away so you can see what you’ve consumed thus far. MyFitnessPal and LoseIt are popular for this. Then continue to log as you eat or binge. Deep down, you do care about what and how much you eat, so try to step outside your emotional distress for a moment and focus on your physical health. Record your food.
5. Change the Scenery.
This was helpful when I had food and alcohol cravings. By removing yourself from your environment by walking outside, texting a friend or browsing a book store, your focus shifts outward. Many times, we get caught up in our emotions. It’s ok, and even healthy, to shift to something other than yourself. Read a self-help blog (like SelfDevelopShop or ExpatHousewife) to help understand that you’re not alone with your feelings. There are resources to support you in making yourself happy and healthy.
6. Get over the Hump.
Get your feet wet by dedicating 1 week to healthy eating and healthy habits. Just 1 week is not asking too much. You will start to see results within a few days. After a week, you’ll have fewer, if any, sugar cravings. Start today, like right now. Get rid of the junk food and your go-to comfort food inside your kitchen. Don’t feel guilty about throwing it away; better in the waste than on the waist. Buy healthy options when you go to the grocery store. It’s your goddamn right to make your health a priority. Throw the junk away now; you don’t need it.
7. Staying Motivated
It’s important to stick to 1 week of good eating. No junk. No binges. I know it’s hard. Your anxiety and emotions will start nipping at you, but reaffirm your commitment to get over this difficult part. It will get easier. In a few weeks, you’ll be a new person. So many good things are happening in your body as you detox yourself from unhealthy eating. It’s nice to remember that when you feel a craving come on, it’s a sign that your body is detoxing, so help it by sticking to your goal.
When you feel your skin crawl, ask a loved one to help distract you. What you’re feeling is a craving brought on by old habits and/or stress. Get out of your house. Get a massage. Then take a walk. Window shop. Get a pedicure. Play a video game without a bag of chips. See how different it feels. Remember, cravings do end. It might be a few minutes or a few hours, but it will pass. When you are hungry and it’s time for a meal, enjoy a nice outside dining experience on a restaurant patio with greens and balanced protein/carb ratios. Or cook your own meal and soak in how well you’ve done. Stick to real food.
8. Substitute (Only After You’ve Made Honest to Goodness Progress)
If you must indulge (we are all human here), do not go out and buy your junk food. Don’t buy your pre-made cookie dough either. Make your own food, from scratch. Make only enough for yourself for 1 helping. Don’t bake a whole cake, bake one cupcake and throw the extra batter away (remember, better in the waste than on the waist). This way you assess if the indulgence is worth the time and labor into making your treat. Getting your fix from the store or a restaurant will just spark old habits again, then down the rabbit hole we go.
This practice of making my own treats has stopped me from many binges. Usually, the last thing I want to do is pull out measuring cups to combine organic flour with agave syrup and seasonings… it’s too much work and I’m better off eating an apple. So, if you must have a brownie, bake your brownie from flour, cocoa powder and raw forms of sugar. None of this packaged brownie mix crap. Then, when you’ve baked your brownie, enjoy the hell out of it. Eat slowly. Do not get carried away. Again, I recommend this only after you’ve made real progress, like weeks or months, not hours or days.
Not Your Typical Addiction.
Unlike other addictions, we can’t just remove food from our lives completely. It will take true discipline to develop a healthy relationship with food and coping skills. It’s a process, so be patient with yourself. Remember to love yourself along the way. Ask for support from your family and loved ones to make the process easier.
I’m not here to correct physical flaws with our bodies. I know how frustrating it can be to carry extra weight. The message here is finding healthier ways to deal with emotions. Food has the ability to heal or harm, so your relationship with food will determine how it affects your health and well-being. Remember that you can do this. It’s hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Keep going.